Goverment Twists Fracking Report

 

Image result for photos fracking

 

EPA’s late changes to fracking study downplay risk of drinking water pollution

Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking.
Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

This story was reported in conjunction with APM Reports.

Top officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year made critical changes at the eleventh hour to a highly anticipated, five-year scientific study of hydraulic fracturing’s effect on the nation’s drinking water. The changes, later criticized by scientists for lacking evidence, played down the risk of pollution that can result from the well-drilling technique known as fracking.

Documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that in the six weeks before the study’s public release, officials inserted a key phrase into the executive summary that said researchers did not find evidence of “widespread systemic impacts” of fracking by the oil and gas industry on the nation’s drinking water.

Earlier draft versions emphasized more directly that fracking has contaminated drinking water in some places.

The documents also show that the news release accompanying the scientific study was changed on June 3, 2015, the day before it was made public. A draft displayed a conclusion that the EPA had identified “potential vulnerabilities” to drinking water. But the final release dated June 4, concluded: “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.

In a conference call with reporters about the study on the day it was released, the EPA’s deputy administrator, Tom Burke, highlighted the lack of “widespread, systemic impacts” as the agency’s top finding.

In fact, scientists had found evidence in some places that fracking activity had polluted drinking water supplies.

In all, the agency identified more than two dozen instances in which hydraulic fracturing had an impact on water resources. The agency also identified hundreds of other spills, many of which reached soil and water.

It’s not clear precisely who inserted or ordered the new phrasing. But emails acquired via the Freedom of Information Act show EPA officials, including press officers, met with key advisers to President Obama to discuss marketing strategy a month before the study’s release. The emails also show EPA public relations people exchanging a flurry of messages between 4 and 11 p.m. on the eve of the study’s release.

The authenticity of the documents — before and after the changes — was confirmed independently by three people with knowledge of the study.

In interviews with 19 people familiar with the research, some characterized the “(no) widespread, systemic” language as a “bizarre conclusion” and “irresponsible.” Others said they were “surprised and disappointed” that top EPA officials used the phrase and said they had no idea it would become the headline until it came out.

The revised summary was quickly embraced by the oil and gas industry, which for nearly a decade had been fighting off environmentalists’ attacks and negative news coverage about fracking’s alleged harm to the environment.

Industry representatives cheered the findings, touting them as validation that fracking is safe.

Media organizations big and small highlighted the conclusion in headlines and sound bites. In a 140-character information ecosystem, suddenly the industry had the benefit of government assurance that fracked wells did not pose a significant threat to water supplies.

Those reports won the day, dominating the news cycle despite the EPA report noting that fracking activities, including chemical spills and faulty well construction, did have an impact on drinking water resources.

It’s not unusual for government agency reports to be edited and crafted in a way that provides positive context for a preferred policy. When research is mischaracterized by policy-makers, however, it raises concerns about the politicization of government science.

“There’s not really a wall between science and politics,” said Dominic DiGiulio, a former EPA scientist. “In my opinion, that statement was put in there to ensure that there would not be blowback from the oil and gas industry.”

The oil and gas industry, along with Republican allies in Congress, has regularly criticized the EPA for investigations into fracking, arguing that state regulators have primary responsibility over the oil and gas sector. Even as it was conducting the broad study, in three instances the EPA withdrew abruptly from investigations into landowner complaints over water contamination related to fracking.

Agency scientists are revising the study, a standard process with all EPA research that involves input from the public and the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, a peer review group that provides scientific advice to the agency.

EPA officials say they hope to release the final version of the $29 million study by the end of the year.

Burke and his boss, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, declined requests for interviews. Asked about the late changes in the news release, Tom Reynolds, who ran the agency’s communications office when the study was released, declined to comment.

The revelations come as Republican President-elect Donald Trump is set to take office on a pledge to abolish the EPA and eliminate regulations on oil and gas activities to boost energy exploration. It might be difficult for Trump to eliminate the agency, but even slight reductions could have a major effect on an agency that already has been hit by budget cuts.

Areas where hydraulic fracturing is being used to extract oil or natural gas. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Areas where hydraulic fracturing is being used to extract oil or natural gas. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. – APM Reports

Between 2010 and 2016, the EPA’s budget was reduced $2.1 billion, or 20 percent. There are also 1,902 fewer EPA employees than in 2010.

Congress called for study

The oil and gas industry has used hydraulic fracturing for decades. The process sends a mix of water, chemicals and sand into the subsurface at high pressure.

In the past 20 years, its use has dramatically increased as technology has combined with horizontal drilling techniques to produce vast amounts of affordable fossil energy from shale rock formations.

Gas, thought to have fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal, has been replacing coal steadily for U.S. electricity generation for more than a decade. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. 
Gas, thought to have fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal, has been replacing coal steadily for U.S. electricity generation for more than a decade. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.  – APM Reports

The number of hydraulically fractured wells drilled nationwide has jumped from 24,000 in 2000 to 300,000 in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

As natural gas production has grown over that decade, the portion that is coming from fracked wells has grown to two-thirds. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.
As natural gas production has grown over that decade, the portion that is coming from fracked wells has grown to two-thirds. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. – APM Reports

Fracking has been the linchpin in the nation’s energy economy for the past decade. It has unearthed huge amounts of oil and gas, reducing the nation’s dependence on coal for electricity generation and its reliance on foreign oil.

The government reported in May that hydraulically fractured wells provided two-thirds of U.S. natural gas production in 2015 – nearly 10 times the amount produced in 2000.

Natural gas is also seen by many, including the Obama administration, as a cleaner-than-coal bridge to a time when most electricity will come from renewable sources. In addition to making the U.S. less dependent on foreign sources of oil and natural gas, fracking has delivered an economic boost to many parts of the country.

But like many industries relying on natural resources, the prospect of jobs has collided with environmentalists and residents worried about clean air and clean water.

Landowners in many states, including Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Wyoming, have complained that their drinking water was contaminated after fracking activity occurred near them.

Concerned about the complaints and potential impacts, Congress in 2009 urged the EPA to study fracking’s impact on drinking water. Supporters of the congressional action cited a 2004 EPA study that said fracking was safe; they claimed the study politicized the science and played down negative findings.

So EPA scientists spent years evaluating scientific reports from academics, industry, non-governmental organizations and government agencies. They took their own water samples, conducted laboratory analysis, did computer modeling of potential contamination, interviewed residents reporting water quality changes and negotiated with oil and gas companies to acquire proprietary well drilling data.

The study was highly anticipated and in the months before its release in June 2015, a draft assessment was shared with top policymaking and public information officials, according to internal emails.

A gas well pad in Dimock, PA.
A gas well pad in Dimock, PA. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Meetings involved White House advisers Candace Vahlsing and Dan Utech and officials from the Energy and Interior departments. Vahlsing and Utech declined to comment, a White House spokesman said.

White House Assistant Press Secretary Frank Benenati also was involved in the study’s “messaging,” according to the emails. Benenati, now the EPA’s director of communications, didn’t respond to specific questions about his involvement with the study.

A former EPA official involved in the study defended the controversial line about no “widespread systemic impacts,” saying the lack of a definitive conclusion required the agency to give a nuanced view of fracking. “In this area, there’s incomplete information,” said Ken Kopocis, who was the deputy assistant administrator for water at the EPA. “And so scientists will introduce some element of judgment in drawing their conclusions.”

Kopocis also said it’s common for the White House to be involved in meetings discussing major scientific reports because it’s necessary to inform other agencies involved in oil and gas issues.

The EPA report did note a number of instances in which fracking activity, including poorly designed well construction, chemical spills, well blowouts and direct drilling into formations containing water, had a “documented impact” on drinking water.

The findings included a 2010 chemical spill in Kentucky that killed threatened fish, a well blowout in North Dakota that resulted in chemicals potentially reaching a nearby aquifer and direct drilling into drinking water resources in Wyoming.

The report concluded that 9.4 million people lived within a mile of a hydraulically fractured well between 2000 and 2013.

The agency also reported 457 spills related to fracking in 11 states between 2006 and 2012. In 324 of those cases, the EPA said spills reached soil, surface water or ground water. A spreadsheet of those spills was included in the study.

On the day of the release, when asked to quantify the risks of fracking, Burke demurred. “The study was not, nor was it intended to be, a numerical catalog of all episodes of contamination,” he said.

The examples of documented contamination were overshadowed by the last-minute changes that shifted the tenor of the report.

Some experts in hydraulic fracturing say the late edit exonerated the practice in the public eye.

“It’s not Watergate, but it completely alters the take-home message of the report,” said Rob Jackson, a researcher at Stanford University, who believes hydraulic fracturing can be done safely.

He worries that the EPA’s decision to minimize the vulnerabilities has reduced the urgency for government regulators and oil and gas companies to push to make the process safer. “It’s still making a big, big difference because it supports the narrative that there aren’t problems,” Jackson said.

DiGiulio, after leaving his job as an EPA scientist, joined Jackson in a research project at Stanford that found fracking had a “clear impact” on drinking water in Pavillion, Wy.

The agency had earlier abandoned its research into problems at Pavillion and turned the investigation over to the state. It was one of the three instances in which the EPA withdrew from investigating suspected contamination incidents in the past four years. The others were in Dimock, Pa., and Parker County, Texas. The agency did not include water testing data from those cases in its national study on drinking water.

The EPA’s Science Advisory Board, however, suggested the agency “should include and critically analyze” findings from those three locations. The advisory board also rebuked the EPA’s conclusion of no “widespread systemic impacts.”

Calling the phrase “ambiguous” and inconsistent with the observational data, the advisory board directed the EPA to show the underlying data to back up its claim of no “widespread, systemic impacts”.

“We suggested that they provide a definition of ‘systemic,’ a definition of ‘widespread’ and then provide quantitative data to support the conclusion,” said Peter Thorne, a University of Iowa environmental scientist who chairs the Science Advisory Board. “That is all a way of asking them to put that kind of scientific rigor behind a statement as broad as that.”

Near Dimock, Pa.
Near Dimock, Pa. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Study took pressure off industry

McCarthy, the head of the EPA, said at the National Press Club last week that the agency will soon release the final study. She also said her agency is balancing the requests of the 30-member Science Advisory Board with the study’s limitations. During her remarks, McCarthy noted that the four board members with oil and gas ties dissented from the criticism of the phrase.

This was one science advisory board that was as fractured as the subject matter,” McCarthy said. “While I can’t tell you the direction it is going to take, we are going to listen to all sides in terms of what the members thought, and we’ll come to the best decision that we can.

The EPA has the authority to manage drinking water impacts to water resources and to oversee drinking water impacts through several federal laws, including the Clean Water Act and the Safe Water Drinking Act.

But states largely oversee oil and gas development.

The industry, heavily invested in continuing the practice, has steadily battled the EPA. The companies and their industry groups have also repeatedly said there have been no confirmed cases of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing.

That’s why the outcome of the EPA study was important.

If the study had emphasized major problems with the practice, it could have meant increased oversight by state regulators, a call for banning fracking in certain communities and even calls for additional federal oversight.

Instead, the draft study took pressure off the industry.

When the federal Environmental Protection Agency says that technology causes no widespread, systemic risk, that’s a big deal,” said Kevin Book, head of the research team at ClearView Energy Partners, which advises oil and gas investors. “That reinforces the sense that there’s nothing to see here, folks. Move on.”

How the language changed

The documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that on April 24, 2015, an executive summary was circulated that said “hydraulic fracturing activities have contaminated drinking water resources in a variety of documented cases. Despite these risks, the number of documented impacts is quite low.”

Nowhere did the draft state that there was no widespread, systemic impact on water.

On May 4, EPA officials met with key advisers to Obama, officials from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy to make sure they were “clear on messaging,” according to public documents.

By May 12, the executive summary had changed to include the phrase: “We did not find evidence of widespread, systemic impacts.”

And on May 20, another change deleted a sentence that said “a low rate of documented impacts does not minimize the effects experienced by citizens whose drinking water resources have been impacted.”

The agency’s news release also was altered in the days before the draft study was released.

A version circulated internally in early June featured a headline emphasizing vulnerabilities to drinking water.

But the news release issued publicly on June 4 featured a less forceful headline and a smaller, second headline saying that fracking had not “led to widespread, systemic impacts” and that the study “identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”

Within a day, the Marcellus Shale Coalition from Pennsylvania put together a collection of TV news reports, all emphasizing the lack of impact and largely ignoring the vulnerabilities.

Industry has battled EPA

Today the oil and gas industry continues to use the study to advance drilling around the world.

The Maryland Petroleum Council is highlighting the research as it pushes to allow fracking in that state. And earlier this month, the American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group, urged the EPA to keep the language in the study. It said the report could affect New York’s statewide ban on fracking and influence whether other countries adopt the practice.

The American Petroleum Institute released its own industry-backed study confirming that hydraulic fracturing has led to no widespread, systemic impact to drinking water.

“It has plenty of supporting evidence for its conclusion, yet hydraulic fracturing and its peer-reviewed studies continue to face misinformed attacks on scientific conclusions that support the value and safety of the process,” said Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute.

Milito also said he believes the EPA’s Science Advisory Board raised questions about the report because it was swayed by the testimony of landowners who were complaining about their drinking water.

In addition to requesting supporting evidence, several members of the board characterized the phrase as a “value statement,” not a scientific one.

Board member Thomas Young, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California-Davis, said he believes the phrase is misleading because the federal agency may not have found a widespread impact, but impacts could still be occurring.

“When you say that there’s no impact, people leap to the conclusion that there is no way in which this material is making it to water resources,” he said. “And I do not think that has been proven.”

Young said he was unaware that the EPA had made last-minute changes to the study or the news release. He said he would have chosen different wording but understood the push to put a conclusion on a multiyear study that cost millions.

Congress, the oil and gas industry and environmental groups would not have settled for a report simply calling for additional research, Young said. “Most people don’t really want to spend millions of tax dollars on a study that comes up with the answer of ‘more study is needed.’”

The study ran into a number of difficulties when it began five years ago.

The EPA, for example, tried to work with oil and gas companies to conduct testing on sites before, during and after a fractured well is drilled. Called “baseline testing,” it would have allowed scientists to see whether the process resulted in any contamination of groundwater. Despite pledges of cooperation from the industry, the EPA could never reach agreement with any company to conduct the tests.

“Initially, industry was very supportive of working together with the EPA to do some field studies,” said Robert Puls, a scientist who oversaw the study in 2010 and 2011. “As the details for doing those studies got closer and closer to actual implementation, their resistance seemed to grow.”

Puls said he left his position at the EPA in 2011 partly because he was frustrated with resistance by oil and gas companies to work with the EPA on the study.

“They didn’t protect my water”

The Science Advisory Board isn’t the only group questioning how EPA officials could make the general claim that fracking caused no “widespread, systemic impacts” without scientific basis.

Many landowners who believe their water was harmed by hydraulic fracturing say the EPA let them down by minimizing the impact.

“They’re supposed to protect my water,” said Bill Ely, who owns land in Dimock, Pa., and settled a lawsuit with Cabot Oil and Gas over tainted water. “I pay them to protect my water. They didn’t protect my water or these people in this area here.”

Bill Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009.
Bill Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

A spokesman for Cabot did not return messages. Company officials have said that any problems with the water in Dimock occurred long before the company drilled in the area.

Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009.

The complaints from landowners placed Dimock at the center of the fight over the environmental safety of fracking. Movie stars and environmentalists visited the small, northeastern Pennsylvania town and called for the practice to be banned. Industry groups countered with analysis that the practice is safe and brings money and jobs to an economically depressed area.

Since the first incident occurred in 2009, state and federal regulators became heavily involved in Dimock.

In 2010, Pennsylvania regulators announced a settlement with Cabot Oil and Gas that required the company to pay $4.1 million to residents for drilling violations. Regulators said Cabot’s drilling practices allowed combustible methane to contaminate drinking water. And this year two families also won a $4.2 million court case against the company for negligence and creating a nuisance. More than a dozen other families settled with the company for an undisclosed sum.

Cabot has not disclosed terms of its settlement with landowners. Attorneys for Cabot said in court that the methane leaking from the wells was occurring naturally and was a problem before the company drilled in the area.

In 2012, the EPA conducted a study of private water wells of 64 homes in Dimock. The agency eventually determined “that there are not levels of contaminants present that would require action by the agency.”

But another federal agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, looked at the same data and concluded in June 2016 that chemicals in the water wells in 27 of the 64 homes were high enough to affect human health.

Some landowners are still pushing for the government to do more.

Every few weeks, Ray Kemble, who said he has one of those 27 homes, has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water. The tanks, which sit in a shed outside his home, ensure he has clean water. His property, which sits across the street from a well pad, is covered with anti-fracking signs.

Ray Kemble has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water every few weeks to ensure he has a constant supply of clean water. His home is one of the 27 in Dimock that have a high concentration of harmful chemicals in their water wells.
Ray Kemble has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water every few weeks to ensure he has a constant supply of clean water. His home is one of the 27 in Dimock that have a high concentration of harmful chemicals in their water wells. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Kemble has been questioning the EPA’s conclusion of no widespread, systemic impact, including publicly testifying before the Science Advisory Board. He said he’s disappointed that regulators, including the EPA, didn’t do more for him.

“Why do we have to fight the government when the government was supposed to be protecting us?” he said. “Those agencies were put there to protect the people from stuff like this from happening.”

Drilling provides economic boost

Though some landowners in the Dimock area are unhappy with fracking in the community, it has provided an economic boost.

Cabot has a major presence in the community and says it has invested $1.5 billion in Dimock and surrounding areas in Susquehanna County. Cabot trucks can be seen regularly throughout the rural community and the company has a new corporate office in nearby Montrose.

Cabot is among many companies to tap into the energy rich Marcellus Shale Formation that lies under parts of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Landowners are paid monthly, and drilling has increased employment in rural parts of the country. Jobs in the oil and gas extraction sector grew nationally by 33,600 between 2006 and 2016, government figures show.

Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community. He wouldn’t say how much he’s being paid for his mineral rights but said a majority of landowners are happy with the natural gas activity in the area.

“We’ve had a shot in the arm,” he said. “It’s probably the best thing that’s happened to this community in 50 years.”

Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community. 
Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community.  – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Obama’s embrace of fracking has forced him to walk a fine line.

He acknowledges that the fracking process, along with transporting and storing oil and gas, could release methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. The outgoing administration this month issued rules to prevent methane leaks on federal lands. But Obama has said that gradually transitioning from coal to natural gas has reduced U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  “We’re going to have to straddle between the world as it is and the world as we want it to be and build that bridge,” he said in October.

The specifics of Trump’s approach are unknown. Last Monday, Trump issued a video statement saying that energy issues, including fracking, will be a top priority when he takes office.

“I will cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy, including shale energy and clean coal – creating many millions of high-paying jobs. That’s what we want. That’s what we’ve been waiting for,” he said.

Trump has appointed Myron Ebell, a climate change skeptic, to lead the transition at the EPA. The president-elect also has pledged to further deregulate the oil and gas industry, but his position on fracking has been contradictory. In September, he vowed to expand natural gas production from fracking and coal production, two competing energy resources.

In August, Trump told a Colorado TV station that he was willing to let voters have a say on fracking bans, but in April he criticized New York state’s ban on the practice.

The disagreement over the environmental impact of fracking will continue in the Trump administration. In addition to finishing the study on hydraulic fracturing’s impact on drinking water, the EPA will continue to pay for research on fracking.

In September, it announced a $2 million study that will examine how oil and gas development is affecting water quality and its impact on human health. The study is focused on an area that includes Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

Some scientists, landowners and environmental advocates believe that the EPA lacks credibility to research fracking’s impact on drinking water. They have grown suspicious about how the EPA handles fracking issues.

“They don’t know who to trust,” said Raina Rippel, who directs the Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, which tracks health impacts on people in high-fracking areas. “They don’t necessarily feel that the state regulatory agencies or the federal regulatory agencies are listening. They feel so severely betrayed right now.”

Correction: The original text inaccurately named the Clean Water Act. It has been corrected.

Follow Scott Tong at @tongscott.

Trump Tax Plan–Guess Who Gains

 

Who Benefits From Donald Trump’s Tax Plan?

Donald Trump leaves an elevator at Trump Tower in New York City, just prior to delivering a speech in September that outlined his plan for tax reform.  Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Donald Trump has proposed a very detailed tax plan — but his statements on the campaign trail don’t always match what his proposal would really do.

For instance, at a rally in Scranton, Pa., Trump promised to “massively cut taxes for the middle class, the forgotten people, the forgotten men and women of this country, who built our country.” During a town hall meeting on NBC’s Today show, he said he believes in raising taxes on the wealthy.

And at least half of Trump’s supporters agreed with him on that, according to a pre-election survey by RAND Corp., a research group.

“Just before the election, after the last debate, 51 percent of them intending to vote for Trump supported increasing taxes on high-earning individuals,” says Michael Pollardof RAND.

But Trump’s plan does the opposite, says Lily Batchelder, a law professor at New York University and visiting fellow at the Tax Policy Center.

“If you look at the most wealthy, the top 1 percent would get about half of the benefits of his tax cuts, and a millionaire, for example, would get an average tax cut of $317,000,” she says.

But a family earning between $40,000 and $50,000 a year would get a tax cut of only $560, she says, and millions of middle-class working families will see their tax bills rise under Trump’s plan — especially single-parent families.

Tax Increases Projected Under Trump Plan

Lily Batchelder, a law professor at NYU and visiting fellow at the Tax Policy Center, says Donald Trump’s plan would boost taxes for many families, with some of the largest increases applying to single-parent families “because of the repeal of the head of household filing status and personal exemptions.”

  • A single parent with $75,000 in earnings, two school-age children and no child care costs would face a tax increase of around $2,440.
  • A single parent with $50,000 in earnings, three school-age children and no child care costs would also face a tax increase of around $1,188.
  • A married couple with $50,000 in earnings, two school-age children and no child care costs would face a tax increase of about $150.
  • Other married couples would get almost no benefit.

Source: Tax Policy Center

Trump Plan Emphasizes Child Care Tax Breaks

President-elect Donald Trump’s website says working- and middle-class taxpayers would see the biggest tax cuts, in percentage terms, under his plan.

  • A married couple earning $50,000 per year with two children and $8,000 in child care expenses would see a 35 percent cut.
  • A married couple earning $75,000 with two children and $10,000 in child care expenses would see a 30 percent cut.
  • A married couple earning $5 million with two children and $12,000 in child care expenses would see a 3 percent cut.

Source: donaldjtrump.com

“A single parent who’s earning $75,000 and has two school-age children, they would face a tax increase of over $2,400,” Batchelder says. That’s if they had no child-care deductions; the increase in taxes comes partly because the Trump plan eliminates the $4,000 exemption for each person in a household.

Steve Calk, a Trump economic adviser, says the loss of the exemption is partially offset by other changes in Trump’s plan. He takes issue with the Tax Policy Center’s analysis and argues that there will be big tax cuts for middle-income families.

Take a family earning $50,000 a year, Calk says, “and their child-care costs are $7,000 or $8,000 a year. They’re going to save 35 percent on their net tax bracket.”

Batchelder says that calculation is misleading because it focuses on tax rate reduction rather than a family’s after-tax income — in other words, how much money they have in their pocket after taxes.

But Calk argues the personal-income tax cuts, as well as the Trump proposal to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, will help taxpayers by boosting economic growth.

“The single best way to help people that are in the low-income bracket or unemployed or underemployed is, No. 1, to get them employed in real jobs with real benefits,” Calk says.

Economists disagree on whether the tax plan would be good for the economy. The Tax Policy Center says that over the first decade, the government would lose $6.2 trillion in revenue, producing huge budget deficits that could hurt the economy.

One other element of the Trump plan is worth noting: It would eliminate the federal estate tax entirely. Only the wealthiest taxpayers — less than 1 percent — now pay that tax. Ending it would lead to an even greater concentration of wealth in the U.S.

Editor’s Note: John Ydstie spoke at length about Trump’s proposed tax plan on NPR’s NewsTime earlier this week. Watch his interview below.

Phoney News for Fun and Money

 

The rise and rise of fake news

Newspaper with 'Liar Liar' headlineImage copyrightISTOCK

The deliberate making up of news stories to fool or entertain is nothing new. But the arrival of social media has meant real and fictional stories are now presented in such a similar way that it can sometimes be difficult to tell the two apart.

While the internet has enabled the sharing of knowledge in ways that previous generations could only have dreamed of, it has also provided ample proof of the line, often attributed to Winston Churchill, that “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on”.

So with research suggesting an increasing proportion of US adults are getting their news from social media, it’s likely that more and more of us are seeing – and believing – information that is not just inaccurate, but totally made up.

There are hundreds of fake news websites out there, from those which deliberately imitate real life newspapers, to government propaganda sites, and even those which tread the line between satire and plain misinformation.

National Report front pageImage copyrightNATIONAL REPORT
Image caption     A US election story untainted by fact

One of them is The National Report which advertises itself as “America’s Number 1 Independent News Source”, and which was set up by Allen Montgomery (not his real name).

“There are times when it feels like a drug,” Montgomery told BBC Trending.

“There are highs that you get from watching traffic spikes and kind of baiting people into the story. I just find it to be a lot of fun.”

One of The National Report’s biggest ever stories was a scare about a US town being cordoned off with a deadly disease, and as Montgomery explains they’ve mastered the art of getting people to read and share their fake news offering.

“Obviously the headline is key, and the domain name itself is very much a part of the formula – you need to have a fake news site that looks legitimate as can be,” Montgomery says.

“Beyond the headline and the first couple of paragraphs people totally stop reading, so as long as the first two or three paragraphs sound like legitimate news then you can do whatever you want at the end of the story and make it ridiculous.”

But why go to such trouble? The answer is there is big money to be made from sites by The National Report which host web advertising, and these potentially huge rewards entice website owners to move away from funny satirical jokes and towards more believable content because it is likely to be more widely shared.

“We’ve had stories that have made $10,000 (about £8,100). When we really tap in to something and get it to go big then we’re talking about in the thousands of dollars that are made per story,” Montgomery says.

Empire NewsImage copyrightEMPIRE NEWS
Image captionTrick or treat?

But how much should be worried by fooled by sites that set out to get fake news stories up and running?

Brooke Binkowski from Snopes, one of the largest fact checking websites which fights online misinformation, believes that while individual fake news stories may not be dangerous their potential to cause damage becomes more powerful over time and when considered in the aggregate.

“There’s a lot of confirmation bias,” she says. “A lot of people want proof that their world view is the accurate and appropriate one.”

And that idea of reinforcing people’s beliefs and falsely confirming their prejudices is something that Allen Montgomery says his fake news site actively tries to exploit.

“We’re constantly trying to tune into feelings that we think that people already have or want to have,” he says.

“Recently we did a story about Hillary Clinton being fed the answers prior to the debate. There was already some low level chatter about that having happened – it was all fake – but that sort of headline gets into the right wing bubble and they run with it.”

Buzzfeed’s Craig Silverman, who heads a team looking into the effects of fake news, explains just how easily fake news can end up being reported as true by the mainstream media.

“A fake news website might publish a hoax, then because it’s getting social attention another site might pick it up, write that story as though it’s true and may not link back to the original fake news website,” Silverman says.

“From there it’s a chain reaction until at some point a journalist at a largely credible outlet might see it and quickly write something up, because many journalists are trying to write as many stories as possible and write stories that get traffic and social attention. The incentive is towards producing more and checking less.”

ClickholeImage copyrightCLICKHOLE
Image caption      Not the naked truth

And as Anthony Adornato, assistant Professor of Journalism at Ithaca College in New York explains journalists are not only under increasing pressure but in many cases are also not being given sufficient guidance on how to properly verify stories.

“The policies in newsrooms haven’t caught up with the practice,” Adornato says.

“Its commonplace that news outlets are relying on content that folks have shared, but not every newsroom has a policy regarding how to verify and authenticate this information.”

A recent study of local TV stations in the US conducted by Adornato revealed that that nearly 40% of their editorial policies did not include any guidelines on how to verify information from social media, yet news managers at the TV stations admitted that at least a third of their news bulletins had reported information from social media that later was revealed to be false or inaccurate.

So with the fake news floodgates now wide open, has the battle to contain it already been lost?

Allen Montgomery says Facebook has taken steps to reduce the impact of fake sites like his own.

“We were specifically targeted by the Facebook changes in their news feed algorithm. They’ve drowned out our stories from being shared and from being liked, and I have no doubt that they are doing the same to other fake news sites. Really though, if there’s money to be made – and there is – you just have to get more creative.”

Montgomery says he now has nine fake news sites around which he moves content to try to beat Facebook censoring.

So if fake news sites aren’t going away, Buzzfeed’s Craig Silverman says that more needs to be done to ensure that people aren’t duped by them.

“Journalists need to get training so that they can quickly spot fakes, and people in school should learn how to read things critically online – they should learn how to research and check multiple sources online.”

Listen to a special edition of BBC Trending on fake news on the BBC World Service.

Electricity from Ocean Waves

 

1st wave of wave-born power hits

Buoys that really tap ocean currents go online in Hawaii

A wave energy device converts the movement of the ocean into electricity at a Navy test site at Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii. (Northwest Energy Innovations)
Image 1 of 2

By Cathy Bussewitz   Associated Press   In Chicago Tribune

KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii — Off the coast of Hawaii, a tall buoy bobs and sways in the water, using the rise and fall of the waves to generate electricity.

The current travels through an undersea cable for a mile to a military base, where it feeds into Oahu’s power grid — the first wave-produced electricity to go online in the U.S.

By some estimates, the ocean’s endless motion packs enough power to meet a quarter of America’s energy needs and dramatically reduce the nation’s reliance on oil, gas and coal. But wave energy technology lags well behind wind and solar power, with important technical hurdles still to be overcome.

To that end, the Navy has established a test site in Hawaii, with hopes the technology can someday be used to produce clean, renewable power for the fleet and provide electricity to coastal communities around the world.

“More power from more places translates to a more agile, more flexible, more capable force,” Joseph Bryan, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy, said during an event at the site. “So we’re always looking for new ways to power the mission.”

Hawaii would seem a natural site for such technology. As any surfer can tell you, it is blessed with powerful waves. The island state also has the nation’s highest electricity costs — largely because of its heavy reliance on oil delivered by sea — and has a legislative mandate to get 100 percent of its energy from renewables by 2045.

Still, it could be five to 10 years before wave energy technology can provide an affordable alternative to fossil fuels, experts say.

For one thing, developers are still working to come up with the best design. Some buoys capture the up-and-down motion of the waves, while others exploit the side-to-side movement. Industry experts say a machine that uses all the ocean’s movements is most likely to succeed.

Also, the machinery has to be able to withstand powerful storms, the constant pounding of the seas and the corrosive effects of saltwater.

“You’ve got to design something that can stay in the water for a long time but be able to survive,” said Patrick Cross, specialist at the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, which helps run the test site.

The U.S. has set a goal of reducing carbon emissions by one-third from 2005 levels by 2030, and many states are seeking to develop more renewable energy in the coming decades.

Jose Zayas, a director of the Wind and Water Power Technologies Office at the U.S. Energy Department, which helps fund the Hawaii site, said the U.S. could get 20 to 28 percent of its energy needs from waves without encroaching on sensitive waters such as marine preserves.

“When you think about all of the states that have water along their coasts, there’s quite a bit of wave energy potential,” he said.

Wave energy technology is at about the same stage as the solar and wind industries were in the 1980s. Both received substantial government investment and tax credits that helped them become energy sources cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels.

But while the U.S. government and military have put about $334 million into marine energy research over the past decade, Britain and the rest of Europe have invested more than $1 billion, according to the Marine Energy Council, a trade group.

“We’re about, I’d say, a decade behind the Europeans,” said Alexandra De Visser, the Navy’s Hawaii test site project manager.

The European Marine Energy Centre in Scotland, for example, has 14 grid-connected berths that have housed dozens of wave and tidal energy devices from around the world over the past 13 years, and Wave Hub in England has several such berths. China, too, has been testing dozens of units .

Though small in scale, the test project near Kaneohe Bay represents the vanguard of U.S. wave energy development. It consists of two buoys anchored a half-mile to a mile offshore.

One of them, the Azura, which extends 12 feet above the surface and 50 feet below, converts the waves’ vertical and horizontal movements into up to 18 kilowatts of electricity, enough for about a dozen homes. The company working with the Navy, Northwest Energy Innovations of Portland, Ore., plans a version that can generate at least 500 kilowatts, or enough to power hundreds of homes.

A Norwegian company developed the other buoy, a 50-foot-wide, doughnut-shaped device called the Lifesaver. Cables anchor the 3-foot-tall ring to the ocean floor. When the sea wobbles the buoy, the cables move, turning a generator’s wheels. It produces an average of 4 kilowatts.

Test sites run by other researchers are being planned or expanded in Oregon and California. One of them, Cal Wave, run by California Polytechnic State University, hopes to provide utility-scale power to Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The Hawaii buoys are barely noticeable from shore, but developers envision dozens of machines working at once, an idea that could run into the same opposition wind turbines have faced from environmentalists, tourist groups and others.

“Nobody wants to look out and see wind turbines or wave machines off the coast,” said Steve Kopf, CEO of Northwest Energy Innovations.

More in Wikipedia

SUGAR VS. FAT=FRAUD

A newly discovered cache of internal documents reveals that the sugar industry downplayed the risks of sugar in the 1960s.  Luis Ascui/Getty Images

50 Years Ago, Sugar Industry Quietly Paid Scientists To Point Blame At Fat

National Public Radio   source
In the 1960s, the sugar industry funded research that downplayed the risks of sugar and highlighted the hazards of fat, according to a newly published article in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The article draws on internal documents to show that an industry group called the Sugar Research Foundation wanted to “refute” concerns about sugar’s possible role in heart disease. The SRF then sponsored research by Harvard scientists that did just that. The result was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, with no disclosure of the sugar industry funding.
Sugar Shocked?

The Rest Of Food Industry Pays For Lots Of Research, Too
The sugar-funded project in question was a literature review, examining a variety of studies and experiments. It suggested there were major problems with all the studies that implicated sugar, and concluded that cutting fat out of American diets was the best way to address coronary heart disease.

The authors of the new article say that for the past five decades, the sugar industry has been attempting to influence the scientific debate over the relative risks of sugar and fat.

“It was a very smart thing the sugar industry did, because review papers, especially if you get them published in a very prominent journal, tend to shape the overall scientific discussion,” co-author Stanton Glantz told The New York Times.

Money on the line
How The Food Industry Manipulates Taste Buds With ‘Salt Sugar Fat’
In the article, published Monday, authors Glantz, Cristin Kearns and Laura Schmidt aren’t trying make the case for a link between sugar and coronary heart disease. Their interest is in the process. They say the documents reveal the sugar industry attempting to influence scientific inquiry and debate.

The researchers note that they worked under some limitations — “We could not interview key actors involved in this historical episode because they have died,” they write. Other organizations were also advocating concerns about fat, they note.

There’s no evidence that the SRF directly edited the manuscript published by the Harvard scientists in 1967, but there is “circumstantial” evidence that the interests of the sugar lobby shaped the conclusions of the review, the researchers say.

For one thing, there’s motivation and intent. In 1954, the researchers note, the president of the SRF gave a speech describing a great business opportunity.

If Americans could be persuaded to eat a lower-fat diet — for the sake of their health — they would need to replace that fat with something else. America’s per capita sugar consumption could go up by a third.
In ‘Soda Politics,’ Big Soda At Crossroads Of Profit And Public Health
But in the ’60s, the SRF became aware of “flowing reports that sugar is a less desirable dietary source of calories than other carbohydrates,” as John Hickson, SRF vice president and director of research, put it in one document.

He recommended that the industry fund its own studies — “Then we can publish the data and refute our detractors.

The next year, after several scientific articles were published suggesting a link between sucrose and coronary heart disease, the SRF approved the literature-review project. It wound up paying approximately $50,000 in today’s dollars for the research.

One of the researchers was the chairman of Harvard’s Public Health Nutrition Department — and an ad hoc member of SRF’s board.

“A different standard” for different studies

Glantz, Kearns and Schmidt say many of the articles examined in the review were hand-selected by SRF, and it was implied that the sugar industry would expect them to be critiqued.

Obesity And The Toxic-Sugar Wars
13.7: COSMOS AND CULTURE
Obesity And The Toxic-Sugar Wars
In a letter, SRF’s Hickson said that the organization’s “particular interest” was in evaluating studies focused on “carbohydrates in the form of sucrose.”

“We are well aware,” one of the scientists replied, “and will cover this as well as we can.”

The project wound up taking longer than expected, because more and more studies were being released that suggested sugar might be linked to coronary heart disease. But it was finally published in 1967.

Hickson was certainly happy with the result: “Let me assure you this is quite what we had in mind and we look forward to its appearance in print,” he told one of the scientists.

The review minimized the significance of research that suggested sugar could play a role in coronary heart disease. In some cases the scientists alleged investigator incompetence or flawed methodology.

“It is always appropriate to question the validity of individual studies,” Kearns told Bloomberg via email. But, she says, “the authors applied a different standard” to different studies — looking very critically at research that implicated sugar, and ignoring problems with studies that found dangers in fat.

Epidemiological studies of sugar consumption — which look at patterns of health and disease in the real world — were dismissed for having too many possible factors getting in the way. Experimental studies were dismissed for being too dissimilar to real life.

One study that found a health benefit when people ate less sugar and more vegetables was dismissed because that dietary change was not feasible.

Another study, in which rats were given a diet low in fat and high in sugar, was rejected because “such diets are rarely consumed by man.”

The Harvard researchers then turned to studies that examined risks of fat — which included the same kind of epidemiological studies they had dismissed when it came to sugar.

Citing “few study characteristics and no quantitative results,” as Kearns, Glantz and Schmidt put it, they concluded that cutting out fat was “no doubt” the best dietary intervention to prevent coronary heart disease.

Sugar lobby: “Transparency standards were not the norm”

In a statement, the Sugar Association — which evolved out of the SRF — said it is challenging to comment on events from so long ago.

“We acknowledge that the Sugar Research Foundation should have exercised greater transparency in all of its research activities, however, when the studies in question were published funding disclosures and transparency standards were not the norm they are today,” the association said.

“Generally speaking, it is not only unfortunate but a disservice that industry-funded research is branded as tainted,” the statement continues. “What is often missing from the dialogue is that industry-funded research has been informative in addressing key issues.”

The documents in question are five decades old, but the larger issue is of the moment, as Marion Nestle notes in a commentary in the same issue of JAMA Internal Medicine:

“Is it really true that food companies deliberately set out to manipulate research in their favor? Yes, it is, and the practice continues. In 2015, the New York Times obtained emails revealing Coca-Cola’s cozy relationships with sponsored researchers who were conducting studies aimed at minimizing the effects of sugary drinks on obesity. Even more recently, the Associated Press obtained emails showing how a candy trade association funded and influenced studies to show that children who eat sweets have healthier body weights than those who do not.”
As for the article authors who dug into the documents around this funding, they offer two suggestions for the future.

“Policymaking committees should consider giving less weight to food industry-funded studies,” they write.

They also call for new research into any ties between added sugars and coronary heart disease.

 

MIDDLE EAST
Department Of Defense Investigating U.S.-Led Coalition Airstrike In Syria
Mike Pence speaks to Republicans at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Si

 

 

Cracker Barrel

 

Cracker Barrel Store Front

Cracker Barrel is a chain of inexpensive restaurants with attached stores selling souvenirs, chotzkies, gift items.  They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I’ve eaten in one twice, and I’ve despised them until I read this:                               RJN

An anonymous online review:

“A Tip for Seniors”

I visit Cracker Barrel at least once a week.

This is one place that they will let Seniors

order off the kids menu and get the free drink too.

You can get a complete meal with drink and

either a biscuit or cornbread for under $5.00.

It’s cheaper than cooking at home for one or two people.

In the winter, I go up there a lot and ask for a table

by the fireplace. Cheaper than getting a duralog

for my fireplace and sitting alone.

 

source

Rich Rig Taxes, Run U.S.

For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions
The very richest are able to quietly shape tax policy that will allow them to shield billions in income.
By NOAM SCHEIBER and PATRICIA COHEN  DEC. 29, 2015  source

 

Daniel S. Loeb, shown with his wife, Margaret, runs the $17 billion Third Point hedge fund. Mr. Loeb, who has owned a home in East Hampton, has contributed to Jeb Bush’s super PAC and given $1 million to the American Unity Super PAC, which supports gay rights. CreditLeft: Patrick McMullan Company; Right: Doug Kuntz

WASHINGTON — The hedge fund magnates Daniel S. Loeb, Louis Moore Bacon and Steven A. Cohen have much in common. They have managed billions of dollars in capital, earning vast fortunes. They have invested large sums in art — and millions more in political candidates.  Moreover, each has exploited an esoteric tax loophole that saved them millions in taxes. The trick? Route the money to Bermuda and back.

With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.

In recent years, this apparatus has become one of the most powerful avenues of influence for wealthy Americans of all political stripes, including Mr. Loeb and Mr. Cohen, who give heavily to Republicans, and the liberal billionaire George Soros, who has called for higher levies on the rich while at the same time using tax loopholes to bolster his own fortune.

All are among a small group providing much of the early cash for the 2016 presidential campaign.

Operating largely out of public view — in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service — the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government’s ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans.

The impact on their own fortunes has been stark. Two decades ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president, the 400 highest-earning taxpayers in America paid nearly 27 percent of their income in federal taxes, according to I.R.S. data. By 2012, when President Obama was re-elected, that figure had fallen to less than 17 percent, which is just slightly more than the typical family making $100,000 annually, when payroll taxes are included for both groups.

The ultra-wealthy “literally pay millions of dollars for these services,” said Jeffrey A. Winters, a political scientist at Northwestern University who studies economic elites, “and save in the tens or hundreds of millions in taxes.”

Some of the biggest current tax battles are being waged by some of the most generous supporters of 2016 candidates. They include the families of the hedge fund investors Robert Mercer, who gives to Republicans, and James Simons, who gives to Democrats; as well as the options trader Jeffrey Yass, a libertarian-leaning donor to Republicans.

Mr. Yass’s firm is litigating what the agency deemed to be tens of millions of dollars in underpaid taxes. Renaissance Technologies, the hedge fund Mr. Simons founded and which Mr. Mercer helps run, is currently under review by the I.R.S. over a loophole that saved their fund an estimated $6.8 billion in taxes over roughly a decade, according to a Senate investigation. Some of these same families have also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to conservative groups that have attacked virtually any effort to raises taxes on the wealthy.
For the Richest, Lower Taxes
The average tax rate for the ultra-wealthy has fallen dramatically.

Top 400 earners

While Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have pledged to raise taxes on these voters, virtually every Republican has advanced policies that would vastly reduce their tax bills, sometimes to as little as 10 percent of their income.

At the same time, most Republican candidates favor eliminating the inheritance tax, a move that would allow the new rich, and the old, to bequeath their fortunes intact, solidifying the wealth gap far into the future. And several have proposed a substantial reduction — or even elimination — in the already deeply discounted tax rates on investment gains, a foundation of the most lucrative tax strategies.

“There’s this notion that the wealthy use their money to buy politicians; more accurately, it’s that they can buy policy, and specifically, tax policy,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who served as chief economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. “That’s why these egregious loopholes exist, and why it’s so hard to close them.”

Louis Moore Bacon, shown with his wife, Gabrielle, is the founder of a highly successful hedge fund and a leading contributor to Jeb Bush’s super PAC. Among his homes is one on Robins Island, off Long Island.CreditLeft: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg News, via Getty Images

 

 

“We do have two different tax systems, one for normal wage-earners and another for those who can afford sophisticated tax advice,” said Victor Fleischer, a law professor at the University of San Diego who studies the intersection of tax policy and inequality. “At the very top of the income distribution, the effective rate of tax goes down, contrary to the principles of a progressive income tax system.”

Aticle continues . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nicholas Confessore contributed reporting and Kitty Bennett contributed research.

To Cracker Barrel

 

I like to tease AIice about eating at Cracker Barrel Restaurants, and I ran across this piece, printed as a customer review,  while looking for ammunition.

At first I noticed it is nicely written, then that it is touching, then that it is a poem. I’ve only adjusted the length of lines and applied the italic font.  rjn

 

I visit Cracker Barrel at least once a week.

 This is one place that they will let Seniors

order off the kids menu and get the free drink too.

 

You can get a complete meal with drink and

either a biscuit or cornbread for under $5.00.

It’s cheaper than cooking at home for one or two people.

 

In the winter, I go up there a lot and ask for a table

by the fireplace. Cheaper than getting a duralog

for my fireplace and sitting alone.

 

  Gloriousglo,  Indiana

source

How to Deal with Digitals after Death (or Before)

Help Squad: Even in death, a person’s digital footprint lives on

This column grew from a request for help I received from a reader named Angie. Angie’s husband died in October, and she has struggled with the various government agencies and financial institutions she has had to contact since his death. I am still working with Angie on an issue involving the retrieval of survivor benefits from her husband’s health reimbursement account, which will be featured in an upcoming Help Squad.

Angie’s situation made me realize that, in general, people are not prepared for all the logistics that follow a family member’s death. So for guidance on what can be done to make this process easier, I spoke with Harrison, Va.-based elder law attorney, Sally Balch Hurme, author of the best-selling “Checklist for My Family: A Guide to My History, Financial Plans, and Final Wishes.” Hurme had a wealth of information to share. Below are some of her recommendations.

Do now

Everyone should make a secure list of their digital assets, e.g., smartphone, computer, email, social media accounts, then record the associated user IDs and passwords someplace retrievable by a family member. Hurme warned: “It’s a nightmare if you don’t have these passwords. Without them, you will most likely not be given access (to the deceased’s accounts).” She then added this interesting side note: “iTunes will be a problem if it is not your account. You could potentially lose all your music if it was purchased using the deceased’s account.”

If anyone is a veteran, he/she should acquire his/her DD-214 (certificate of discharge) and keep it with his/her important papers.

“This is your key to the kingdom,” Hurme said. “You’ll get nothing from the VA without the DD-214. And there are both burial and survivor benefits to be had.”

Be sure all pension plans, annuities and retirement plans have named beneficiaries. Without this they become a part of the deceased’s estate.

Do post-death

The following items should be attended to as soon as possible following an individual’s death. And Hurme counsels: “It’s advisable to have a good dozen copies of the death certificate as you will need them for (everything below).

Contact Social Security (800-772-1213) if the individual received social security payments. The last check will have to be returned as it is paid in advance.

Cancel health insurance. If it is Medicare, this will also be done through Social Security.

If the deceased was a veteran, contact the Veteran’s Administration.

“Most funeral home directors know what specific VA benefits are and what you have to do to get them,” Hurme adds.

Cancel the deceased’s driver’s license, and be sure the DMV knows the individual has died.

“This is identity theft protection because you don’t want a fake driver’s license being created,” Hurme said.

Notify the three credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax – to flag the individual’s file as deceased. “Thieves read obituaries and you don’t want anyone using the deceased’s credit history or personal information to get credit using their record,” Hurme warned.

Notify the banks where the individual had checking and/or savings accounts. Be aware if any are joint accounts; they will be temporarily frozen. As necessary, change the names on bank accounts, utility bills, homeowners insurance, auto loans and auto insurance.

If there is life insurance, contact the provider.

Says Hurme: “Many companies require a physical copy of the life insurance policy before they will pay it out, so survivors will need to know where this is and who to contact to claim the proceeds.”

Contact pension plan, annuity and retirement savings plan companies.

“IRAs will need to be rolled over to the named beneficiary’s IRA,” Hurme explains. “This can get complicated, so working with a financial adviser is essential. Do not attempt this on your own. There are very significant tax penalties if you do it incorrectly.”

Need help?

Send your questions, complaints, injustices and column ideas toHelpSquad@pioneerlocal.com.

Cathy Cunningham is a freelance columnist for Pioneer Press.

Copyright © 2016, Chicago Tribune

Water, Water, Everywhere , Which is Better to Drink ?

 

Where does your water from?   I know that people who suck plastic bottles are sure that they are getting something better than tap water, something worth paying more  than for gasoline, worth many times more than tap water.

 

Image result for plastic water bottles in trash photos

 

OK, I give up–except on one point:

Who knows where that miraculous bottled water has come from?  Anybody reading labels?

In front of me on this hotel room desk is a 5 ml. bottle of water labeled to come from “protected springs” at various Pennsylvania sites.  Niagara Bottling LLC is shown to be in  Ontario, Canada.  Their web address is given where you can read this:

UPDATED – Tuesday September 8, 2015    Niagara Bottling (“Niagara”) issued a voluntary recall of spring water produced at our two (2) Pennsylvania plants from June 10-18th, 2015 because the operator at one of our contracted springs failed to notify us that there was evidence of E. coli bacteria at the spring source.

As of September 7, 2015 Niagara has found no E. coli contamination of any kind in our finished products or in the spring water that was delivered to our bottling facility. We are pleased to report that all samples received from consumers have tested absent for E.coli.

I’ve seen bottles with a notice like this–SOURCE:  Such a Spring, Such another Spring, and other sources.

I cracked up when I check the label on water bottle at our last hotel–SOURCE:  Public Water Resource, Plymouth , Michigan.  Tap water, damn it!  They are selling tap water, and admitting it!     rjn

_________________________________________

source

Tap Water vs. Bottled Water

Why Tap Water Is Better Than Bottled Water

  • Bottled water is not safer than tap water. In fact, more than half of all bottled water comes from the tap.
  • Buying bottled water is like pouring money down the drain. Bottled water costs from $0.89 per gallon to $8.26 per gallon, compared to fractions of a penny for water from your tap. That makes bottled water thousands of times more expensive than tap water.
  • Water bottle garbage is a major source of pollution.
  • Buying a reusable bottle is an easy way to save money and help the environment.

Is My Tap Water Safe?

FACT: Bottled Water is Not Safer Than Tap Water

Did you know that tap water is tested more frequently than bottled water? In fact, in the United States, our drinking water is continuously monitored and treated according to federal standards. If local tap water is unsafe then water companies are obligated, under federal law, to notify the public.

But My Tap Water Tastes Bad, What Should I Do?

How To Check Your Tap Water Quality

Contact your local water company to request a copy of the Annual Water Quality Report, also known as the Consumer Confidence Report. These reports are intended to help people make informed choices about their drinking water. These reports contain a lot of useful information but are often overwhelming or confusing to read. We’ve put together a helpful guide on how to read your report and choose the best filtration system for your home.